Caring for Student Mental Health
Even before COVID-19 imposed record demand on mental health services, concerns around a steady uptick in anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations among college students nationwide spurred campus administrations and legislative bodies across the country to take action.
Baylor has steadily grown its commitment to providing unprecedented mental health services, setting a new standard across higher education in access and quality to clinical and preventive care services to the University’s students, faculty and staff.
Baylor Dean of Student Health and Wellness Jim Marsh, Ph.D., is executive director of counseling services. In more than two decades at Baylor, he has seen the trends surrounding mental health services grow in severity and complexity. As COVID-19 swept the globe, Marsh knew demand for those services would be at an all-time high.
“Everybody thought it was going to be a tidal wave of student needs, and that does seem to have borne out,” Marsh said. “The number of students seeking help increased, which is a good thing. There’s much more openness, and universities are trying to figure out the best way to care for students.”
Within the clinical setting of Baylor’s Counseling Center, the response has been to make services as widely available and accessible as possible, leaning heavily on telehealth access for mental health and medical services while also maintaining a commitment to in-person options.
“It’s not going to replace what we do in the Counseling Center, but it really expands and enhances what we do,” Marsh said.
While many higher education institutions might offer some form of telehealth services, Baylor has set itself apart by offering those services without cost or session limits to the student.
“That’s been the challenge for university counseling centers across the country, being able to see all the students who want to be seen for as long as they want to be seen,” Marsh said. “Evening appointments, weekend appointments, expressed preference for a therapist based on gender, race, language specialization. It [telehealth] opens a whole new array for us in providing care with students.”
Medically, these same options exist, allowing free and unlimited virtual urgent care visits, as well as access to nutritional care, assistance with eating disorders and psychiatric evaluation via telemedicine.
“The same thing you would go to an urgent care for, any Baylor student now has access to that for free,” Marsh said. “Again, you pick the doctor you want to talk to. We also have access to free nutritional care and psychiatry. It’s a game changer for us.”
Care Team Services
The Counseling Center’s clinical setting provides needed intervention to assist students in crisis and those needing specific on-going care. Meanwhile, the Department of Care Team Services looks to connect students to on- and off-campus resources to provide holistic care through creating trusting relationships.
Led by Director of Care Team Services Meghan Becker, M.Div. ‘02, and a team of case managers, the Care Team assists with referrals based on a wide range of potential markers, including suicidal ideation, academic decline, alcohol or drug misuse, depression and more.
“Faculty, staff and sometimes students will refer students to our office for dealing with anxiety, depression, financial issues, relationship issues or any sort of mental health crisis that’s affecting their schoolwork,” Becker said. “We get students connected to the right resources. Life outside the classroom greatly impacts life inside the classroom.”
The need for Care Team Services grew as these students oftentimes fell through the cracks and would not seek or receive care until their issue grew to a level of crisis.
“We don’t directly help manage their anxiety or depression. We get them connected to the right people who do,” Becker said.
Since January 2020, Care Team Services has nearly tripled its outreach efforts, addressing increased instances of grief, stress and anxiety among Baylor’s student population. Care Team Services assists students who may believe they do not need help or think they are past the point of being helped.
“Ask for help. Say what you need. Even if you don’t know what you need, express it and we’ll get you connected to resources,” Becker said. “A student who thinks they’re too far gone — no way. We have seen the entire spectrum. We love them all and care for them all and really work to get them connected to resources.”